Combining molecular analyses with geological and palaeontological data may reveal timing and modes for the divergence of lineages within species. The Mediterranean Basin is particularly appropriate for this kind of multidisciplinary studies, because of its complex geological history and biological diversity. Here, we investigated chloroplast DNA of Quercus suber populations in order to detect possible relationships between their geographical distribution and the palaeogeographical history of the western Mediterranean domain. We analysed 110 cork oak populations, covering the whole distribution range of the species, by 14 chloroplast microsatellite markers, among which eight displayed variation among populations. We identified five haplotypes whose distribution is clearly geographically structured. Results demonstrated that cork oak populations have undergone a genetic drift geographically consistent with the Oligocene and Miocene break-up events of the European–Iberian continental margin and suggested that they have persisted in a number of separate microplates, currently found in Tunisia, Sardinia, Corsica, and Provence, without detectable chloroplast DNA modifications for a time span of over 15 million years. A similar distribution pattern of mitochondrial DNA of Pinus pinaster supports the hypothesis of such long-term persistence, in spite of Quaternary climate oscillations and of isolation due to insularity, and suggests that part of the modern geographical structure of Mediterranean populations may be traced back to the Tertiary history of taxa.